Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:23-24)
Have you ever noticed this little poem tucked into the early chapters of Genesis? Doesn’t it seem strange that a poem like this would be recorded in Scripture at all, much less in the beginning chapters of the whole Bible? This is the first poem recorded in Scripture (let’s leave Genesis 1 out of this for now). It’s literally the oldest poem we know of. And it’s a bad poem.
We can learn a lot about culture in general from this one poem. We know for sure that poetry is a good gift that can be used to glorify God. The book of Psalms alone contains 150 God-glorifying poems. So poetry can and should be used for God’s glory.
This is true of all culture. Culture itself is a good gift of God. In fact, God was the first culture maker. He spoke the world into existence in Genesis 1, then stuck His finger into the dirt and formed something amazing out of it—human beings! He made raw plant life, but He also created a garden. And if all of that is not enough to establish God as a culture maker, He took his most glorious creation—the man—and placed him in the midst of his garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).
So culture was God’s idea. He got the cultural ball rolling. And then God formed a culture making creature and placed him in the midst of His cultural project to keep producing culture (which is what “working” and “keeping” the garden amounts to). Culture can and should be used to God’s glory.
But as we know, something went horribly wrong. Humanity rebelled. They should have been continuing to form the garden for God’s glory, but instead they found themselves forming leaves into makeshift clothes (culture making again) to hide their shame. Read on a bit further and you’ll see Cain killing Abel—the first instance of death in history. And then we find Cain—the first murderer—forming a city (culture making again; see Gen. 4:17).
And then we come across the first poem, written by the father of a prominent musician (4:21) and a prominent instrument maker (4:22). The poem is incredibly vengeful. Lamech writes a poem about the first murder, glories in a murder of his own, and claims that his murder was far better than Cain’s.
This serves as a great case-in-point for where culture stands in the wake of the fall. What was to be used for God’s glory is now being used as a weapon against God. We see this in so many aspects of our culture. Music, movies, literature, and so many other forms of culture glory in killing, self-promotion, and sexual promiscuity. Lamech’s poem is tame compared to a lot of the rap songs being produced, but the concept is the same.
So what do we do with culture? Turn our backs and put it all behind us? No! Rather, we should remember that culture was God’s idea, it is His gift, and He placed us on earth to be culture makers. And when we remember that, we get involved. Lamech had his poem, and David had his Psalms. Culture can be used against God, but culture can be used for God as well. We can’t give up on culture (we couldn’t even if we wanted to—Amish culture may be defined by the avoidance of the surrounding culture, but it is still culture). We are God’s culture making creation. And culture is too important to turn over to the destructive forces of the kingdom of this world.